In preparing to tell a story set in the world of a morning news show, executive producer and director Mimi Leder and production designer John Paino traveled to New York to visit some of the real-life counterparts to what would become the titular “The Morning Show” at Apple TV Plus.
They learned of a crucial difference between such programs as “Today” and “Good Morning America,” and harder news channels including MSNBC: “We discovered it wasn’t like a newsroom [with] the news anchors and all of the desks behind them and activity all over the place,” Leder says of the former shows that combine news and entertainment elements.
Since that is what the show within their show endeavored to depict, they needed to build a set that reflected the separation. However, Leder still wanted to be able to move with characters between essential spaces, including the anchor desk, control room, dressing rooms and executive producer’s office, so Paino had to design the set “for fluidity,” she notes. Paino and set decorator Amy Wells were responsible for creating the morning show set, including the sleek news anchor desk and digital backdrop that displayed the morning show’s blue and yellow logo. (“It’s meant to evoke sunrise,” he says.) They also had to figure out the space around and above that set. This included leaving “exposed wires” and the foam boards that hold light strips visible just as the working sets Leder and Paino visited did, offering a clear distinction between the bright, clean, camera-ready spaces and the messier, more technical side of the business.
“I wanted it to have a heightened or poetic realism with the set feeling like Disneyland, but with the worker bees in the dark catacombs where the walls are dark gray or monochromatic,” Paino says.
The show-within-the-show set also had to be designed for practicality. “We had to make it shootable for the broadcast guys who are acting as if they are making the show and then also making it shootable for the Apple crew,” he explains. “The broadcast guys are shooting in 4K, the Apple guys are shooting in 8K. There’s a lot of light built into the set. The archways and the pylons are all light boxes. We basically built a working studio. If we had a signal, we could broadcast out of it.”
The Emmy-nominated duo (Leder in the drama directing category, Paino on the one-hour narrative contemporary production design ballot twice — for “The Morning Show” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies”) worked together previously on “The Leftovers” and share a visual connection, Leder notes, which helped them get in sync here.
One area they both agreed on easily was the use of screens as essential set pieces.
For her shot style, Leder wanted “a lot of windows through which you would see the monitors, so that whatever angle we were on, you would see monitors.” For Paino, the use of LED screens was also to further capture the New York setting, as well as the theme of how information spreads, which was inherent to the story they were telling.
“There’s a feeling that New York is becoming a city of LEDs like Hong Kong [so] becoming more international was part of that set design as well,” he says. Additionally, “the show even starts off with glows from screens in the producer’s office and with a phone — so it was important that was built in when we did the palette and the mood board.”